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Theatre Commands: Is India on right path, at right time?

Irrespective of merits and demerits of Theaterisation, strategically, it is not the right time to go through such a major apex level restructuring

Sunday July 4, 2021 6:07 PM, Major General S.B. Asthana, IANS

Indian Army

In a major restructuring like reorganising the Indian Military into Theatre Commands, there will be variation of views between stakeholders and many rounds of discussions on merits and demerits of the existing Force Structure vis-a-vis the proposed one. Hence it may not be appropriate to call it a 'Turf War' as has been referred in some media reports.

Is the timing Right?

Today India is facing a 'Two Front Threat' in real terms, in a manner that it is already in standoff with the largest military in the world, and the other adversary is also devising new ways to disturb peace through drones/terror attacks. Irrespective of merits and demerits of Theaterisation, strategically, it is not the right time to go through such a major apex level restructuring, when the largest military force is knocking at LAC.

Also Read | IAF Chief, Veterans differ with CDS over role of Air Force

Such major restructuring takes at least few years of teething problems. Hence it will bring turbulence in time tested command structure during the intervening period, a risk which the country must avoid. In an overdrive to minimise cost of Defence, or meet certain personality oriented deadlines, the restructuring should not compromise operational effectiveness of Indian Military.

What needs to be restructured?

Regarding implementation of Indian model of Theatre Commands I endorse Air Defence Command, Defence Space Agency (DSA), Armed Forces Special Operations Division (AFSOD), integration in logistics and recommend up gradation of Defence Cyber Agency (DCA) to "Information Warfare Command" as explained in my detailed analysis.

The critical shortage of air and other assets is a concern, too serious to be overlooked. The Maritime Command accruing advantage of unity of command, will have to be weighed against manageability of increased span of control, as Indian definition of Indo-Pacific and area of maritime interest has grown from eastern coasts of Africa to northern Pacific, up to Japan. With tri-service structure, reporting to single Service Chief has its own problems.

Reporting to CDS may be difficult for him to manage them in operations, (unmanageable span of control), and he not being tasked and organised for it. The first priority of India should be to do capability development over restructuring of Apex level restructuring.

The air power debate!

The Indian Air Force is an offensive component of Indian Military. It has national role besides synergising with other services to contribute to National Combat Power. For comprehensive air battle, with inadequate air resources, switching assets between operational commands of same service is much more effective than trying to do so between integrated theatre commands with dedicated resources, through CDS/ COSC Committee System.

It also needs to be noted that with the current speed of fighter aircrafts and high intensity of lethal air defence systems, globally, the close air support role is being performed better by Attack Helicopters and variety of artillery assets due to safety concerns. New generation aircrafts are mostly multi-role, increasingly employed for long and short range interdiction, creating favourable air situation, degradation, offensive air missions and strategic national missions.

Indianised Model

The US and China have laid down expeditionary role for their military away from mainland. Hence their Theatre Commands like Indo-Pacific Command can't be supported from air assets from mainland, which justifies separate allocation of air assets. Both these countries have done so after reaching self-reliance in defence production.

In case of India, expeditionary role doesn't hold good for considerable period, when it finds raising of much needed mountain strike corps to threaten immediate adversary too costly. India must first bring up its asset availability up to a point that they can be distributed as first priority, with indigenous technology and hardware by self-reliance, which is a work in progress.

Everyone needs focus on capacity building at this time under discernible 'Two Front Threat', rather than igniting debates on Apex level Restructuring, which doesn't improve combat capability very much at cutting edge, where we need more military assets like aircrafts and drones.

(Major General S.B. Asthana is a strategic and security analyst, a veteran Infantry General. He is the Chief Instructor, United Service Institution of India. The views expressed are personal)

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